Turkey's Historic Move in Syria
There has been much talk this week about Trump's withdrawal of troops from Syria and the subsequent offensive by Turkey into Syrian territory against the Kurdish populations there. I actually find myself agreeing with a lot of the takes that I have been hearing about why this was a poor move, despite the fact that I think no matter what move Trump made in Syria he would have likely been criticized.
First, abandoning the Kurdish fighters in Syria was obviously a morally bankrupt decision - part of a long string of incidents where the United States has used the Kurds to do their dirty work when it comes to fighting in the Middle East and subsequently abandoning them. It is a shame because the Kurds have no other natural allies in the Middle East and so must rely on the United States for their support, but the United States can choose when and where it feels like helping the Kurds and abandoning them once our objectives have been accomplished. Add to this the fact that the Kurdish people are probably the most liberal ethnic group in the Middle East (gender rights compared to other Middle Eastern states, parliamentary democracy) and it is obvious that if the US really wanted to stick up for its purported values then the Kurdish people are a group we should be supporting.
Second, we are now responsible for the ethnic cleansing that Turkey is about to initiate in northern Syria. Whether we should have been there in the first place or not is beside the point because once we had lent our support to our allies in the region and decided our national security depended on us being there then we assumed some responsibility in the region. Turkey has been itching to wipe out the Kurdish population on its border with Syria for decades now but has never had the opportunity to blatantly invade Syria until its recent collapse and removal of US troops. Erdogan has not been subtle about his plans and from the various reports on his conversations with Trump, Trump knew exactly what Erdogan was going to do once we pullout. Trump is completely obsessed with his campaign promise of bringing troops home from the Middle East that he didn't care at all about what might happen once our troops leave. While I am also typically a fan of removing our troops from Middle East conflicts, the situation in northern Syria was actually a perfect example of the good that US forces can have in a situation as complicated as the Syrian war. A tiny group of soldiers being stationed in the region was acting as a tripwire preventing another conflict from erupting between Turkey and the Kurds as the civil war in the rest of the country is winding down and modicum of stability is returning to Syria. As brutally as Assad and Russia were in accomplishing their goals in getting control of the country back in the central government's hands, at least it would have provided a semblance of order and a diplomatic solution could have been presented. Now there is a brand new conflict being initiated, complete with the freeing of ISIS prisoners, large scale ethnic cleansing, and the forcible return of refugees to a country they do not want to return to.
In addition to the implications for the United States, Turkey is now going to use the "buffer zone" it is creating to deprive the Syrian state of a crucial strip of land that contains fertile land for farming and large oil deposits. This is a blatant violation of one country's sovereignty by another in the form of a land grab that will rob a war torn country of one of its only sources of revenue that it could use to help bring some stability and prosperity back to its citizens. Erdogan is also cynically using the huge amounts of Syrian refugees in Turkey as a threat against the European countries from criticizing his power move saying that he will release them into Europe if they don't allow him to make his move. This should be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the Western countries and finally stop treating Turkey as an ally in the Middle East if it is going to continue to engage in behavior that is as destabilizing as anything that Iran has done in recent years. How long will it be until Turkey pushes too far and gets attacked by another group in the Middle East and Erdogan tries to trigger article 5 and bring NATO into the fight? Until Turkey rids themselves of their dangerous, autocratic, war criminal of a President they should not be considered an ally of countries that supposedly value human rights and democracy.